At the start of the Grote Kromme Elleboog street in Groningen, one shop stands out because of its remarkable window display. A large board built to look like a ruined battlefield is covered by two factions of miniature warriors, ready to engage in combat with each other. Their life-like paint jobs are matched, if not outdone, by the vast collection of miniatures in the glass cabinet right next to it. Inside, David Clarke waves friendly at passers-by captivated by the display. He is the manager of the local Games Workshop store. “If someone says to me what do you do – I sell toy soldiers and teach people how to build them, paint them, and play them in a game. ”
“I got this job pretty much on the ferry when I was bringing all of our worldly possessions over to the Netherlands. That’s when I got the phone call saying ‘you got the job, you’ve got to come back for training.’ I was like ‘well I’m on a boat to the Netherlands right now so you’d have to fly me back.’”
David was born and raised in Cambridge, England. A bit over 3 years ago, he moved to the Netherlands with his long-term partner Patricia, who comes from the city where they now live. David has four children. Two of them, from a previous relationship, live in England. His two youngest, 5-year old Ella and 1,5-year old Lucas, live with him and Patricia.
Emigrating to the Netherlands did not require a lot of preparation. In fact, he says it was pretty easy. “It was just filling out some forms, closing bank accounts, and a little bit of general administration. It really wasn’t difficult at all.”
There were multiple reasons for the move to the Netherlands. Apart from Patricia wanting to move back, he says the way of living here has definitely been an improvement compared to living in the Cambridge area. While he did earn a good wage there, he didn’t have any time to spend it. Right now he is taking a lesser salary but enjoying life a lot more. Living in the Netherlands, he says, is a lot cheaper compared to the UK.
“I can get a mortgage by running a little toy soldier shop,” David and Patricia just bought a 3-bedroom house, which they would not have been able to back where he is from. “I think the house would cost me around the region of 300,000 pounds in Cambridge. It’s ridiculous. Here, it was 165,000 Euros. That’s about 140,000 pounds. And they are not worth the money, not after I’ve seen what you can get here; high ceilings, gorgeous open plan kitchen, we’ve got a garden. Nah, you wouldn’t get that.”
And then there was Brexit. For David, it came as quite a surprise, “I didn’t expect people to be that stupid. I was literally like ‘what the hell have you done?’”
Being a British expat working in the Netherlands for Games Workshop, an international company that is based in the UK, David had good reason to be worried. “On the day it happened there was a bit of panic and I emailed my personnel, like ‘Brexit, what’s happening?’ And then, of course, the lady who I worked with in personnel was a Dutch lady living in the UK, so she was like, “kind of in the same boat here, Dave.’”
The same sense of uncertainty still lingers to this day, “I don’t really know where I stand right now.” At the moment the situation for him hasn’t really changed since Brexit hasn’t been put into motion yet. But he has looked into his possible options. “One of the immediate things is maybe I’d need to apply for a green card. But, at the same time, I am now a home owner, and we have a cohabitation agreement, and we have two Dutch kids together, so do I really need that?”
Brexit has left him worried mostly about visiting his children back in England. “The main thing is going to be my freedom of going back to the UK. If Britain is not part of the EU what kind of extra taxes are going to be involved there. Is it going to make my flights over to see my children more expensive? I think financially it’s going to cost me a little bit.”
While he does say that at the moment, no one knows what’s going on, he adds that he can’t see it damaging his life right now. He has been living in the Netherland for quite a while, speaks the language, and, by the time Brexit will go through, will be eligible for Dutch citizenship. However, he can see it blocking the path of many who might try and follow his footsteps and emigrate to an EU country: “Say I moved over here in two years’ time when the Brexit has all been done and gone through, it would affect me a lot more. It would be harder for me to get a job here, because apparently what the Dutch companies would have to do is interview people who are actively in the EU first, and then look outside of the EU. What the UK has done is effectively put themselves out of that EU bubble, so they’re not the first choice for jobs in Europe. Yeah, that would really screw me over in two years’ time.”
One of the things he likes about the Dutch, David says, is that he can be open with how he say things here. “I shoot from the hip, I speak from the heart”, something he demonstrates as he lets in two of his regulars. They were waiting in front of the store waiting for it to open, and he greets them with a bit of banter. Confusion about Brexit might still exist, but so far it has not affected his day-to-day. “No one knows what’s going on, but I can’t see it damaging my life right now,” he smiles.